By way of a prologue—
When does a journey begin? In stories, in poems, in epics, we, as the audience, know because the poet or the writer tells us. We have Chaucer’s “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,”we have the Beowulf poet’s “Listen!” But the characters don’t necessarily know the nature of the journey to which they’ve been called—no chance or thought to make preparations. Characters such as Perceval, the paramount knight of King Arthur’s court and the Grail quest, and Tolkien’s hobbit of Lord of the Rings fame, Bilbo Baggins, come to my mind.
I also think of my own journeys, and especially this week (the Tour de France is only a week away!) of one for which I was totally unprepared. When my priest, my mentor, at Trinity Episcopal in Waterloo, IA, asked if I was interested in being a support driver for a charity bike ride around Missouri, I didn’t think, I just said, “yeah, that sounds like fun!” Packed my bag and off I went! No inkling of what was to come—shepherding cyclists and yelling at motorists, writing about the Tour de France, going to seminary, learning about mission and community and connections. Helping to lift others up.
Today, Luke starts us on a journey; we take the first steps with Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of the road to Jerusalem, the road that will bring them to the cross. We have would-be disciples, including one who asks if he might say good bye to his mother and father, echoing Elisha’s question, asked of Elijah, his mentor. The Greek word apotossomai in Luke that means “say goodbye” is the verb form of the word “apostasy” that we use today as turning away from, a turning one’s back on, a withdrawing from, one’s principles, one’s religion, one’s cause.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with our (All Saints’ Episcopal, ATX) lectionary group, which meets between the services as an alternative to the Adult Christian Education forums; I invite you to join us sometime. Part of our discussion involves thinking of creative responses we might have to the Gospel. And so, that’s what I have for you today. The journey’s about to begin; I invite you to close your eyes and listen:
Do we set our faces toward Jerusalem?
Apostasy means never having to say goodbye again.
Perceval, the ultimate knight, the straight, the true, who
hopes to hold the Grail, doesn’t look back
following the angels in shining armor
to follow without question
the men who must serve God in their perfection
Never saying goodbye to the mother who
hid him, bore and raised him,
in the security and surety of the forest.
But he sets his face toward . . . what?
Glory, fame, to be the best, among the best,
Apostate to his mother
she lies dead in the clearing
A hand outstretched, a heart broken
“Let the dead bury the dead”
though she taught him communion and to say Our Father
he never looked back, his hand on the plow
turned into a sword.
Perceval should have asked
“who does the Grail serve?”
but hand to the plow, eyes
and the body’s grace do not allow
him to look behind; mazed at the samite-clad
the single wafer
upon the platter.
What is the cost? “I’ll follow, I’ll follow. . .”
Fools rushing in where only an angel offered a place for his head
“where ever you go”
Even the cross? Can you let go?
Where is your face set?
A young Bilbo runs down the road
without a handkerchief to hold
Dwarves and dragon await.
Much, much later, apostate, withdrawn,
Bilbo, older now, slips on the Ring,
the one to Rule them all,
though it should go into an envelope.
The hand falters on the plow
but finally “the Road goes ever on and on”
face set toward Rivendell and elves.
The Precious left with his nephew,
precious, too, to follow the precarious Road,
to set his face,
to lose a finger,
hand on the plow,
but heart in the Shire.
The prophet cries out against Israel
His face set toward Jerusalem
but Elisha’s set his eyes on him.
He slaughtered the oxen with the very
yoke under which they served
straight and true (all twelve)
fed the people in farewell, his father
and mother and uncles and cousins
a feast of apostasy. “Turn in the rags
and giving the commodities a rain check.”
And Paul, free and Spirited slave, apostate to himself,
to Saul, on the road to Damascus, turns his face from Jerusalem
turns toward Christ. The writer writes, urging others to journey, to apostasy—say goodbye to the Law; lift up each other in love.
Where does your journey begin? Where do you set your face? Amen